TORONTO — With seeding in the East Division standings on the line, the Toronto Argonauts welcome the Montreal Alouettes to BMO Field for the first game of a Friday Night Football doubleheader.
Though it is mid-season, Friday night’s contest will have some true playoff implications as the Argos, who are coming off a loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, are looking to make up some ground in the East. The same can be said for the Als who, like the Argos, embark on a stretch of East Division opponents as both clubs look to make life uncomfortable for the division-leading Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
With how important the second half of the schedule will be for his club, Argos’ head coach Ryan Dinwiddie didn’t downplay how crucial this stretch will be for his team.
“It’s playoff season for us,” said Dinwiddie. “We got to start winning games, put some streaks together. If we don’t handle our business was going to be the odd-man-out when it comes to playoff time and that’s what no one wants in this building.”
He followed up by assessing how he feels his team has played thus far in the season and the mindset shared going into this important stretch.
“Seeing where we had to go play and who we’re playing early on, I think all of us would be pretty happy if we could be .500 coming out of it,” said Dinwiddie. “We’re in a favourable position we still control our own destiny, but I think everybody is a little bit disappointed we haven’t took that next step, we’re looking to do that this week.”
While Toronto’s defence has been stifling this year, giving up the third-least net yards (1,906) in the CFL and allowing the second-fewest rushing yards (510), the team decided to make some changes. In doing so, the league announced earlier this week that the Argos have hired long-time CFL coach, Chris Jones.
The Tennessee native brings with him over two decades of coaching experience, four Grey Cup titles and a Coach of The Year title from 2018. During his first practice with the Boatmen earlier this week, Jones was impressed with the group the Argos have put together with some familiar faces.
“There’s really a lot of good, long players,” said Jones. “We’ve got some length, we’ve got some speed, we’ve got some players who know how to play and got some people with some familiarity with what we do defensively.”
Jones will hit the ground running with this Argos’ defence with his first assignment to help mitigate turnovers and penalties as eight flags resulted in points the weeks prior.
“You’ve got to correct those types of things in order to win football games,” said Jones. “That’s part of where I come in. I’ve got to stress it enough and show them the importance of playing clean football.”
The Argos’ defence will be put to the test against an Alouette offence that sits atop the league in net yards averaged with 385.6 on the season.
Through eight weeks, the story of the Montreal Alouettes’ offence has been the lack of repeat performances. In some games, such as their 30-13 win over the Edmonton Elks or their 51-29 win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS, Vernon Adams Jr. and the offence can do no wrong. In other instances, such as their most recent Week 7 loss against the Lions, the offence seems to stall out and lean on the tandem of William Stanback and Adams to ignite drives.
With the next weeks being critical for the Als in their positioning in the standings, Eugene Lewis and the Als’ offence are hungry to rebound.
“I think every game is critical and we just take it one game at a time,” said Lewis. “I always feel like the east game are always big just because it plays a big part in the record. We can’t worry about down the line, we got to worry about right now. We can’t win the Grey Cup tomorrow, can’t win the Grey Cup this game…It’s a one-game season from here on out.”
Some good news for the Als ahead of Friday’s game is that the team is planning on getting Khari Jones back on the sidelines.
Jones has been a driving force in the development of Adams and the Alouettes as a whole. Having been by his side during the 2019 season, Jones is fully aware of the talent level that Adams has the level of play that he is capable of as during that season he threw for 3,942 yards, 24 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions.
While not at practice, Jones has been vocal in the team’s Zoom meetings and as Adams noted, Jones spoke to him about his play and what to work on ahead of their game against Toronto.
“I don’t need to force these throws. I know we got playmakers and everything, but we got playmakers underneath as well who can get the first down as well,” said Adams on Jones’ assessment of last week’s game.
“Just taking what they [defences] give me and obviously, just being more consistent. I was like a rollercoaster through that whole game, had some good plays and some not-so-good plays…It starts with me so just keep getting better.”
For the Argos, it’ll be McLeod Bethel-Thompson under centre as Nick Arbuckle deals with an injury. Defensively, the team will also be without two Canadian linebackers in Cameron Judge and Henoc Muamba.
You can catch the first game of the Friday Night Football doubleheader at 7:30 p.m. ET on TSN, RDS and ESPN+ or follow along with CFL.ca’s Game Tracker.